Meet Gunner, the dog blood donor
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 December 2014 | UPDATED: 10:50 11 January 2016
It's a little know fact that dogs give blood to save other canines. Emily Rothery reports
Gunner, the German Shepherd, had a shaky start to life. In 2012 he was born in The Wainwright Shelter Animal Rescue at Grayrigg near Kendal to a mother who was unable to look after him. The dedicated staff tended to his needs until he could be adopted and then they contacted Jane Bellas, a local veterinary nurse, in the hope she would give him a permanent home.
Kind-hearted Jane agreed and Gunner became a much-loved pet in the Bellas household. ‘We thought that our old dog was on his last legs but when Gunner arrived he really perked up and lived for another two years,’ said Jane. ‘They really enjoyed each others company.’
Having given one old boy a new lease of life, Gunner then went on to help other canines by becoming a blood donor. Jane has worked at the Westmorland Veterinary Group Practice, which is near her home in Kendal, for 28 years. ‘Many people donate blood to help others but it is a less well-known fact that dogs can donate blood too,’ she added. ‘I have had five rescue German Shepherds - four of them have given blood and like Gunner, have contributed to saving lives.’
Gentle giant Gunner greets me affably and offers a shoe by way of a welcome. His calm demeanour and size makes him an ideal candidate for donating blood and he is usually on hand should a canine patient need a transfusion.
Jane explains that there is currently a drive to encourage dog owners to sign up their pets for the transfusion database as potential donors in an emergency.
‘Transfusions are used for dogs that are critically ill. They may have suffered blood loss through trauma, had major surgical procedure or accidentally eaten rat poison. Some may be anaemic or have a serious medical condition that causes them to destroy their own blood cells. Dogs do have a blood type but it is safe to give one transfusion without cross matching. After having the life-saving procedure they nearly always turn around and do very well,’ said Jane
Any dog can be a donor provided that it meets certain criteria. The animal must be healthy, aged between two and eight years and weigh at least 25kg. It must be up to date with vaccinations, not on medication or had a transfusion and never have travelled abroad.
‘The process of the dog giving blood is similar to human donation and can only be undertaken once every six months. Gunner was sedated during the blood collection as it takes 10 to 15 minutes and he had to keep very, very still which would have been too much to ask of a lively two year old and he was fine afterwards.’
Clients, although distressed that their dogs are ill, are usually amazed at the difference a transfusion can make. I spoke to Jeanette Murphy who tells me about the transfusion that saved her pet, Jenny.
Watching Jenny, a lively little cocker spaniel playing and investigating the woodland near their home in Kendal Green, it’s hard to believe that four years ago she was at death’s door.
‘She had been a healthy dog and her illness happened suddenly when she was five. She deteriorated so quickly; the vet told me that her body was shutting down and, by rights, she shouldn’t be alive so I prepared myself for the worst,’ said Jeanette.
Jenny was diagnosed with auto-immune haemolytic anaemia and her red blood count was dangerously low. Fortunately, the vets at Jane’s practice were able to give her a blood transfusion and, against all odds, she survived.
‘Jenny is such a little character and I am really grateful that my dog’s second chance at life was a gift from another dog,’ said Jeanette. ‘A Labrador donated the blood and we say that Jenny now has some Labrador bounce in her.’
How to help
Many veterinary practices in the Lake District and Lancashire are currently looking for owners who are willing to register their dogs for the transfusion database. If you are interested ask your local vet who will explain the procedure and tell you if your dog is a good candidate for donating blood with the possibility of saving another dog’s life.